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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — If is true that the hills are always alive with the sound of music, it must also be true that the City of Charlotte is among that bountiful hill land. Here, where massive arts groups like the Charlotte Symphony and the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center often get more than their fair share of attention and funding, smaller arts groups are thriving and providing LGBT and straight ally community members the opportunity to be a part of a harmoniously joyful experience.
For this year’s annual Community Assessment Survey, qnotes staff decided early on we wanted to take a special look at Charlotte’s LGBT choral groups, One Voice Chorus and the Gay Men’s Chorus of Charlotte (GMCC). We also included the city’s still-fairly-new band.
These groups hold multiple concerts and other performances each year, so the outreach they have into both the LGBT and mainstream communities is gargantuan. Their budgets, especially those of One Voice and Gay Men’s Chorus, mirror their outreach capabilities, rivaling or even dwarfing the budgets of many other community groups that some might argue get far more attention.
“We do fly under the radar,” says GMCC Director John Quillin. “We have a tough time with the mainstream media in particular.”
Erin Ellenberg, the president of Charlotte Pride Band, also feels as though queer arts groups don’t get their due. The band, in particular, faces its own unique struggle as a new organization.
“A lot of people don’t understand what a concert band is about,” Ellenburg says. “They know what a marching band is. They know what a jazz band is, but they don’t really know what a wind ensemble is and what we do. I tell people it’s like an orchestra but with no strings.”
Despite what seems like a lack of mainstream attention, the community at large, says the arts groups’ leaders, really do come out to support the arts.
“Just look at the audiences for both GMCC and One Voice,” Quillin said, adding that many other performance and other arts groups also exist in the city, including Southern Country Charlotte, the LGBT Center’s StillOut Photography Club, Queen City Theatre Company and others.
A tight-knit arts community among both LGBT and straight allies is important to supporting arts causes, says Pride Band Artistic Director M. David Wallace.
All three groups, though, say they want to grow and find new opportunities. To do so, will require more support. One Voice Chorus Artistic Director Gerald Gurss says while his group’s and other groups’ budgets have grown, they still face fundraising challenges.
“The costs of doing what we do are rising. If we want to continue doing what we do we have to meet the challenge of rising costs,” Gurss says, cognizant that quality should never suffer due to budgetary constraints. “When you are putting out a quality product, I think people will see that and will want to invest in something they see as getting a good return on their money.”
The largest portion of the arts groups’ funds come from concert ticket sales. Other funding sources include individual and corporate donors, as well as non-profit grants.
Quillin foresees a day when all of the arts groups band together to increase their outreach and, ultimately, their funding. He envisions group season ticket sales and other possibilities under the direction of a “Queer Arts Consortium,” whose mission would be promotion of LGBT arts in the city.
“The gay and lesbian arts scene here in Charlotte is probably the richest at least between D.C. and Atlanta and maybe more so than Atlanta,” Quillin says “We’ve just got a lot of stuff going on. We have this opportunity to form some relationships.”
Supporting each other and working together, the directors agree, will be key to their collective success and they hope the community at large joins with them. : :
On the cover — Pictured, bottom row left to right: Mike Swartwood, auto saxophone; Ron Follas, bassoon; Larry Washington, trumpet; Mark Taylor, trumpet. Top row, left to right: Anissa Aguero, clarinet; Emily Cox, French horn.